My observations from these conversations with industry bodies, board members, young professional women and organisations focusing on gender diversity are that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Consistently over the year I posed the questions: “Is it that young women can’t pursue more senior career opportunities i.e. don’t have the skills, experience or opportunities? Or is it that they don’t have the desire to do so?”
To date, most gender diversity initiatives have focused on the first of these two questions by implementing training and development programs, mentor relationships and internal working groups aimed at removing roadblocks. Few have focused on the very important matter of desire.
Personally, I recall a time early in my finance career when the question of desire surfaced. For me – in the corporate landscape within which I was working – staying in or aspiring to reach greater heights in my career was never a question of skill. I had to really want to achieve and desire career growth in my chosen field, aside from the necessary skills I’d have to acquire along the way. This was a sentiment that was also shared by many of my female colleagues and one that, from what I keep hearing, is strongly held by young professional women in the workforce in 2014.
The questions I asked myself back in those early career days over 13 years ago were relevant to who I was as a young professional and my work experience back then, not what I believe are the barriers today. Some of them being:
- Do I want to be the only female, or one of a small few, on an all male board or executive team?
- Do I want to work long hours, weekends and sacrifice personal and family relationships?
- Do I want to become or portray a hard, unemotional woman to compete and succeed with others?
- Do I want to dedicate that much energy to the success of a career and how that will compromise other areas of my life?
- Do I want to put that much pressure on my physical, emotional and mental health?
We have seen many changes in Australia and within organisations since the early 90’s and many of these issues still remain a high priority for young women today when considering their future career.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In talked of these competing tensions (which it’s important to note are relevant for both men and women) in saying that “Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.”
So, what does unnecessary sacrifice look like and how do we avoid it?
Firstly, organisations have an important role in this area to ensure that both culture and process do not prescribe unnecessary sacrifice for individuals to achieve success. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is essential to empower individuals to manage this process.
Critical to this for individuals re-assessing or refining their career goals are three things
- Gain Clarity – Be clear about what you want to achieve so that the perception of sacrifice is accurate.
- Build Resilience – Physical, mental and emotional resilience is critical to ensure that performance and health are not compromised because of a lack of strategy or skills in this area.
- Enhance Confidence – Communicate your goals and objectives, reinforce boundaries when challenged, and allow your authenticity and desires - both personal and professional to remain priorities in your decision-making.
These 3 areas are the theme of a conference *Young Professional Women Australia are hosting in Sydney on the 7th March in honour of International Women’s Day. Success in gender diversity outcomes will not only be the responsibility of organisations as we move forward but – more importantly and powerfully – be that of each woman to own their workplace experience. The conference will address key themes around how women can gain clarity to ascertain exactly what their career goals are and how to confidently move forward to achieve them.
*About Young Professional Women Australia (YPWA)
Kate Boorer is the Founder of Young Professional Women Australia. This not-for-profit LinkedIn networking group was born out of a recognised opportunity to establish a peer-to-peer networking community for like-minded professional women under the age of 40 (however women over 40 are still welcome!) It is a place for women to connect, collaborate, share knowledge and mentor each other as they support each other to pursue career goals in the corporate sector.
Please feel free to Join our community on LinkedIn
About the YPWA International Women’s Day Conference
With an anticipated attendance of 300 people, the inaugural YPWA International Women’s Day Conference is set to inspire and empower young female leaders to drive a truly rewarding career into the future. If this is event is of interest to you and/or your organisation, click the link here for more information.